Oregon teens report ‘eco-anxiety’ due to climate challenges, report finds – Oregon Capital Chronicle
The issue of global climate change became painfully obvious to 17-year-old Ukiah Halloran-Steiner of Yamhill County during the 2020 Labor Day weekend wildfires.
She was kayaking on the Rogue River in southern Oregon with her family when the smoke and wind blew.
“Bats were flying in the middle of the day and my eyes and throat were burning,” she said.
“We thought ‘Oh it’s fires in California, what else is new’ which is obviously a sign of a bigger problem, but once we got cell service I got texts from friends saying they were evacuating people in our own county. It was scary, sad and anxious.
Last November, the United States Surgeon General issued an advisory highlighting the growing youth mental health crisis in the country. The report identified climate change as a factor shaping young people’s mental health.
Tuesday, the American The Medical Association has declared climate change a public health crisis that threatens everyone’s health and well-being. And a new Oregon Health Authority study published on Tuesday revealed that many young people in Oregon are experiencing increasing climate anxiety or “eco-anxiety.”
As part of her 2020 executive order on climate change, Governor Kate Brown directed the Oregon Health Authority to study the impacts of climate change on the mental health of young people in the state.
The health authority has partnered with the University of Oregon’s Suicide Prevention Lab, several climate and youth nonprofit organizations, and the Klamath Tribes to speak with young people across the country. State.
Researchers conducted focus groups with youth from Klamath tribes, people with disabilities, and multicultural and multiracial groups. They conducted independent interviews with experts working in the fields of mental health, education and public health. They also worked with an Ashland-based nonprofit called The Hearth to hold story-sharing circles with middle and high school students affected by the 2020 wildfires.
What they heard were feelings of hopelessness and despair over the slow pace of government action to address climate change, and anger and frustration at the chasm between their sense of urgency and that adults and leaders. Young people in Oregon felt they had the most to lose and the least power to effect change.
“A theme that emerged in the focus groups and our engagement with young people was a sense of the burden that older generations placed on young people to ‘solve’ the climate problem,” the report said. “From the perspective of young people, this is frustrating because their lives will be more affected than those of adults, action must be taken now to significantly reduce these effects, and they do not currently have the political and economic power that the adults to solve the problem.”
The researchers found that as young people in Oregon increased their awareness of climate change, they experienced greater climate anxiety, or eco-anxiety. They found that young people in Oregon understood that climate change was intertwined with systemic racism and oppression and wanted the two to be addressed in unison.
Young people from the Klamath tribes expressed their anxiety about the impacts of climate change on their hunting, fishing and gathering rights. One said: “Climate change affects our rights to our traditions. I think that’s one of the things that could affect our mental health and our physical health.
Among Latina, Latino and Latinx youth interviewed in Rogue Valley, the 2021 heat wave and the death of a farmer brought the issue of climate change to the fore. One interviewee said, “I think of the man who died, the farmhand. It took someone legitimately dying in our fields for OSHA to make new rules about heat and smoke. It’s so heartbreaking and so frustrating.
Researchers and young people came across several actions that could be taken to curb mental health distress in the face of the state of climate change.
One was for adults to take young people’s concerns seriously.
“I don’t like the mental health industry very much because we don’t recognize the world and the absurdity of the world often enough. We focus on individuals and their issues,” a mental health professional told the researchers. “With the way we talk about mental health…it’s all about their depression, their anxiety, things that are wrong with them and how they don’t interface well enough with the world. Climate change is such a specific example of why it’s absolutely a [sic] useless model, the world is the problem, the world will no longer look the same, it will no longer exist in the same way.
Researchers and young people have found that it helps to create a sense of community around the issue and propose changes that can happen at the community level, not just at the individual level. Another action everyone could take is to create stronger relationships with the natural world, which is especially important among indigenous cultures whose history and traditions surround now endangered species of fish and plants.
The report recommended increasing mental health services for young people in schools and involving young people in decisions about climate change response and mitigation. They also recommended that government leaders create systems of accountability to young people regarding the fight against climate change.
For Robin Sack, a 16-year-old from Portland, getting involved in climate change activism has helped reduce her sense of hopelessness about the future.
Sack said the 2020 Labor Day fires were a turning point for his climate change awareness. She watched the young Swedish climate activist Ted Talk by Greta Thurnbergthen went to Google to search for nearby climate activism organizations.
“I found Sunrise PDX,” she said of the local chapter of the international movement to stop climate change. “That alone was like, okay, there are people who are all fighting together.”
She started going to meetings via Zoom during the pandemic.
“I was a little scared at first, but after I started meeting people and seeing more teenagers in space, I gained more hope and a great sense of community. There are people who care about the same issues you do,” she said.
An international investigation out of 10,000 young people in 10 countries, nearly 60% said they felt very or extremely concerned about climate change. Nearly 85% were at least moderately worried.
“Although you feel like you’re alone,” Sack said, “you’re not. There are millions of people in your city, in your state, in your country, and across the world who want the same as you and who will join you in this fight.